Are You Taking the Right Approach to Recurring Giving?

Are You Taking the Right Approach to Recurring Giving?


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I have spent quite a bit of time recently pounding on the We-Need-To-Be-More-Scientific-In-Our-Fundraising drum. That was a primary message in the Rally workshop on Fundraising Metrics, and I’ve written about it often on this blog.

Here’s a concrete example related to Recurring Giving.

First of all, the name – Recurring Giving – is a little misleading, isn’t it? Aren’t normal, annual renewals “recurring”?


What is generally meant by “recurring” giving is automatic giving, usually monthly, using a credit card or bank account withdrawal.

Sounds like a good thing, right? You just sit back and the money flows in like magic every month. And it’s every month – spread out evenly through the year, instead of in a flush at the end of the year. Heck, if someone gives $5/month, that’s $60 for the year from a donor who might not have given more than $35 otherwise. Just $25/month – well within most people’s means – is $300!

Yeah, but…..

How do you get such a program started?

How do you get people to choose monthly giving?


Earlier this year, NextAfter partnered with Salesforce to research and produce a Benchmark Study on Recurring Giving. You can read the entire study results here: The NonProfit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study. There’s also an embedded webinar that is worth an hour to you, if you get interested in the topic.

I wrote about this study a couple of months ago, (See Land Lovers and Other Tips to Encourage Monthly Giving) but I’ve since had a chance to do a deeper dive and it’s worth devoting another week to it.

The study featured three donors who made gifts to 115 different organizations over a three-month period. One made a single gift. One made a single gift and then converted to recurring after a month. And one made a recurring gift as their first gift.

Here are my Top Takeaways from the study:

Recurring options should have their own landing page and their own DONATE button

A significant problem in recruiting recurring donors is that it’s too hard. The landing pages are confusing and even difficult to find. They are filled with extraneous information – trying to serve more than one purpose. One-stop shopping does not work for landing pages.


The time to ask someone to change to a recurring donation is NOT the anniversary of their annual gift, but rather two to three months after they renew.

This is a variation on the theme above. When your renewal message includes too many options, you lose people. Let the renewal message be just that – a request for renewal. Then follow-up a month or two later with an invitation to give monthly.


Say Thank You right away after every donation – yes, that means monthly!

Ideally, you are building a relationship here. Giving makes people happy, and that happiness is leveraged when the fact they are giving is noticed by someone else. Make a phone call when they first give (not every month!), but after that, get creative – use email from a real person’s email account. Tell a story about something wonderful that happened and then use it to show how their recurring gifts are making a difference. Personally invite them to upcoming events. And so on.

Only 1 out of 10 organizations continued to acknowledge our recurring donation on a monthly basis. If the intent here is to hide the transaction from the donor out of fear that they will cancel, it’s not only unethical, it’s poor stewardship.
                     From the Executive Summary, The NonProfit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study


Communicating with recurring donors is NOT the same as communicating with annual donors.

We will benefit from thinking through donor communications for recurring donors from scratch. And taking our “annual giving” mindset out of the picture. For example, communicate at least monthly – the better organizations were using a mix of thank you (you made a difference) messages, other cultivation “news” and additional solicitation messages. They were using email to be sure, but they were also calling, texting and using the mail. One organization, the Bayou Land Conservancy, has a recurring gift program called Land Lovers that features regular meet-and-greets at local breweries.

All of these media and messages should be personal. This is not trivial. This is not convenient for us. It takes dedicated effort from real people. And for the most part, it should not be automated – if it begins to sound institutional, it will undermine the very thing that drives people to want to give monthly.

Take a second look at the paragraph above. When was the last time you sent a personal email that was graphically designed?


Capture their phone number and use it to call to say “thank you” and to send text messages.

Don’t overdo this, but we’re not even close to being in danger here. The researchers only got 6 text messages during the study.


Ask for an additional gift within the first three months.

The request could be one-time for a specific project, or a request for the donor to increase their monthly donation. Similar requests could be made regularly during the year, but be mindful of the ratio of cultivation to solicitation. At least 4:1 if not even more.


Chase after expired cards right away.

The essential message from the study is: have a plan in place. Use an automated service if your credit card company offers such. Call or write immediately – make it personal – to see if the card information can be updated. Even use the opportunity to request a larger monthly gift.


So here’s the most important takeaway for me:

You need to make the case for the donor for giving monthly.

The answer will be different for every organization, but if you cannot answer that question – and communicate it effectively – you won’t be able to get your program off the ground.


There’s the science – now use it!


Cheers, and have a good week!




Photo by Marina Pershina courtesy of

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